Dutch prison system offers inspiration to New Zealand

New Zealand's prison population is skyrocketing, and our jails are at breaking point.

The Netherlands has the opposite problem - they're closing down prisons because inmate numbers have plummeted.

Dutch prisons don't even have bars, according to Toon Molleman from the Ministry of Security and Justice.

"We don't do bars anymore. It's not necessary. The glass is really thick, you won't break out and there are perimeters around," he said.

Cells in the Justitiell Complex Zaanstad have nice views, a microwave, a kettle, televisions and even a telephone - although prisoners aren't allowed to call their victims.

"We know that good reintegration helps reduce recidivism, to have those social ties and to maintain them," says Mr Molleman.

In the Netherlands, prison is considered a last resort. The country has one of the lowest prison populations in the world while New Zealand has one of the highest.

"The biggest reason is in your country some laws changed and they are tougher now," says Mr Molleman.

"Our judges really reject prison sentences because they have other kinds of sentences, like community services or electronic monitoring."

For every 100,000 people in the Netherlands, 61 are in prison. In New Zealand, it's 217.

Even if the Government succeeds in its promise to reduce prisoner numbers by 30 percent, that number would still be 152 - a figure Catherine Heard, director of the World Prison Research Programme, says isn't good enough.

"It's still more than double the Netherlands, so there's still a long way to go."

The World Prison Brief compares data on all the world's prisons, and says New Zealand's criminal justice system is in crisis. There are simply too many prisoners with nowhere to put them.

In the Netherlands it's quite the opposite - prisons are closing down and being re-purposed into things like the 'Movement Hotel', run by refugees.

Several empty prisons have been used to temporarily house asylum seekers during the refugee crisis.

The lack of prisoners means many people are losing their jobs, but ultimately the problem of empty prisons in the Netherlands is seen as vastly better than bursting ones.

Although change is in the wind in New Zealand, we're a long way off going Dutch.